Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Kitchen Counter Dinner

P1280020The other day, a friend and I were chatting at the bus stop about how difficult it has become lately to schedule weeknight dinners now that we’re in the thick of spring sports season. Belle and Conor are only in the junior stages of this (although who knew that they start holding tryouts for teams in the 1st grade), but the running around to make it to a game or practice is already becoming a mishegoss. There are days when everyone is arriving home at different times, or seem to be headed in opposite directions, or we have to hoover food before darting to a soccer practice that doesn’t start until after 6 o’clock, which means we won’t be home until almost 8 o’clock (keeping in mind this is for a Kindergarten team, and the practices were clearly scheduled by a childless male in his twenties).

Forget about everyone gathering round the table at a reasonable hour for an unrushed family meal; on some nights, my friend told me that dinner amounts to handing slices of pizza to her kids in the back seat of the car as she speeds to the next game (the image of a frazzled mom steering a Denali with one hand, while flinging hot slices of pizza with the other, really makes you feel safe on the road, doesn’t it?).

We could get into the issue over whether or not we’re all headed down a rabbit hole of overscheduling our kids, but in the meantime, I’ve been trying to find a solution for these frantic nights when everyone is going to be eating at different times and there’s just nothing you can do about it. The best solution I’ve come up—without succumbing to a fast food drive-thru—is a meal composed of 3 key ingredients that can largely be made in advance, can be assembled at will for whomever is ready to eat, and tastes good at room temperature so reheating is not required:

P1280016_21. Lettuce. Any kind you like, I prefer a fresh head of green leaf lettuce. Washed and dried right after I’ve brought it home from the store and ready to go in the fridge.

P1280017_22. London Broil. Arguably one of the easiest cuts of meat to cook quickly, plus it’s inexpensive and great for leftovers. If I don’t have time to marinate it I just rub both sides generously with Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (if you want to marinate it while you’re at work, you can make extra of the vinaigrette below and pour some into a Ziploc baggie with the meat and let sit in the fridge until you’re ready to cook; also a mixture of apple juice, chopped garlic, and soy sauce is delicious). Before you start cooking, set the London Broil out on the counter until it reaches room temperature (never cook a chilled piece of meat right from the fridge). Heat a cast iron pan or grill pan over high heat. Place the meat in the hot pan and let it sear on the first side for about 4-5 minutes (you will want to put your hood fan on if you have one or crack open a window). Turn the steak over (don’t use a fork or else you will pierce the meat and all the wonderful juices will run out, a pair of tongs is good for this) and let it cook an additional 4 minutes on the other side (depending on how thick the meat is, usually 8-10 minutes total will give you medium-rare). If you touch the meat in the middle and there’s still a little give but it’s not squishy then it’s ready. Place the London Broil on a cutting board and let sit for ideally 10 minutes before carving.

P1280019_23. Homemade vinaigrette. Also made ahead of time and stored in a reused jam/mustard/pickle jar. I make a big jar in the beginning of the week so it’s always available for green or grain salads throughout the week. One of my favorite combinations is (added to the jar in this order): whole seed dijon mustard, maple syrup, salt, pepper, 1 finely chopped shallot, squeeze of lemon juice, and enough red or white wine vinegar so that the jar is about half full. Place the lid on and shake well to combine. Open the lid and add grapeseed oil to almost the top but still leaving enough room for shaking. Close the lid again and shake to combine. Taste for seasonings by putting dipping a cube of bread or lettuce leaf in the dressing.

P1280021_2It’s easy to leave all the ingredients out on the counter for everyone to make their own salad when they get home, along with a loaf of crusty bread and butter. If you want to gild the lily you can also put out a little crumbled blue cheese for those who like it–it’s actually really delicious if you combine it with the vinaigrette. If you’re the one doing the assembling, you can tailor the meal for those in you family; as an example, for Belle I’ll just give her the sliced steak wrapped inside of a large lettuce leaf because that way she can hold strong and fast to her assertion that she doesn’t eat salad.

If you have the time, ambition, and ingredients handy, you can feel free to add to this basic 3-ingredient salad. Other things I place on the counter include sliced avocado, shredded carrots, homemade croutons, roasted beets, and steamed string beans. But the idea is not to knock yourself out. Sometimes making it simple is still very satisfying and always preferable to cleaning up pizza from the roof of your car.



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